You don’t like to think of yourself as a Girardian cliché. Neither do I. But we like to oversimplify. Living life on the spectrum takes tremendous amounts of consideration (aka compassion) and tremendous amounts of time (aka love). But we live on a spectrum. Nothing is black and white. Not even when it comes to identity politics and exploitation of Native peoples.
For me, from my perspective, being In’din is a party and everyone is invited. That’s a controversial position to take. So before I get blasted let me explain.
Recently I heard news about Joseph Boyden. So this came out last year (I’m a little late to jump on the bandwagon, but I’m hearing about this for the first time). I recently set up a new Twitter account and I’m doing all the rounds with reaching out to folks and letting people know I’m floating around in the Twitter-sphere. Then I kept crossing these tweets about Joseph Boyden. I do like any good mindless-drone-of-a-conformist and I Google the controversy.
He did himself in pretty good. Unfortunately, it turns out privilege has once again shown its ugly head. So it’s hard to make my case or take my position when we have a pretty constant stream of exploiters washing up onto our shores. And in the same breath, I’ll say Joseph Boyden was nice enough to write me a recommendation letter for graduate school. While after hearing my name, Oscar, he did say I was one part bologna. Don’t laugh. That’s not funny. Okay, it’s a little funny. Alright then: laugh.
I met Mr. Boyden at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was a visiting writer. I was in my last year at IAIA (2008-09) and we talked freely with each other and even corresponded after his short visit. He was friendly and generous. His recommendation letter landed on deaf ears because I didn’t get accepted by Brown University, which was where he sent his letter. Instead I was accepted at the University of Oklahoma and I’m happy for it. But Mr. Boyden did put himself on the line for me, and I’m grateful for his time (aka love).
Now should he have passed himself off as Native? Because I thought he was Ojibwa. I honestly did not assume he was otherwise. I read the man’s book, Three Day Road, and it appeared to me to be as genuinely a Native book as I could write myself. But I say that and I’m not Ojibwa. If he was Cherokee or Kiowa I would have a better position to argue that point. Still, I feel a little duped.
So the reason I take the position “being In’din is a party and everyone is invited” comes out of a resolve in our strength as Indigenous peoples. I don’t put much stock into blood quantum because its divisiveness leaves me suspicious to the institutions that promote and impose it. Power mongers and control freaks. I live in love and only love love.
Yes, we should be aware that people don’t lose values overnight. If someone wakes up tomorrow and says, “I’m Cherokee,” it doesn’t mean the decades of values imposed on them will automatically erase. By daily interactions you were conditioned to dominance so you will not abandon those traits automatically. You’re habitualized to domination. If you step into a community that constantly dances, sings, and prays in an effort for equalization, then you might cause some disruptions. Or reinforce hyper individualism in a community seeking to correct its course.
With that said, we as Native people cannot and should not underestimate our ability to heal ourselves within the act of healing others. I say this based on experience. When I started working behavioral health with Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo youth in New Mexico, I myself was only one step ahead of the youth I served. I had to meet the expectations of a role model as it was placed on my shoulders. In helping them, I helped myself. In empowering others, I empowered myself.
Because this experience changed my DNA, I can say without a doubt, “Being In’din is a party and everyone is invited.” Our shoulders are strong. We are champions and heroes. We were born into fear and it’s our work toward humanity to abandon it.
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Image borrowed from the following source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Boyden_(14379842914)